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Having spent over 2 years in Singapore I finally feel like I’m qualified to give some advice on how you should spend your time there. When people ask me for advice on Singapore they usually only have a couple of days to kill between flights, so I’ve created a “2 days in Singapore” itinerary which takes in the famous, touristy sights and also some of the hidden gems I’ve discovered along the way.
Singapore is one of the most modern, well-oiled city machines in the world and is home to some impressive feats of architecture, interesting historical sites and peaceful nature areas. If you’re short on time a great idea is to book a ticket on a hop on/hop off city bus tour. The open top “Hippo” bus (Singapore Duck Tours) is a great option, and at around $40 won’t end up costing you too much more than getting the MRT/local buses around town (assuming you make a lot of stops). The double decker buses also give you a great view of the city and you’ll get some background information on the history of Singapore (the earphones they gave me stopped working after about 5 minutes though, make sure you bring your own!). Another great thing about the Hippo bus is that the ticket lasts for 24 hours – so if you bought your ticket at 1pm you can use it until 1pm the next day (the buses run from 9am-6.30pm).The buses stop at almost every tourist attraction in the inner city; here are some I’d recommend checking out (you might not have time to see the all).
Gardens By the Bay is one of my favourite places in Singapore and I’d highly recommend visiting if you have time. The Supertrees are straight out of an alien world and the cloud forest dome has an awesome waterfall, the largest indoor one in the world apparently!
Get to know Singapore’s unique cultural history by visiting one (or all) of its historical districts. My favourite is Kampong Glam, the old Arab quarter. The food there is great and Haji Lane shows a slightly more alternative side of the city – you’ll actually see graffiti here (I’m sure it’s all legal though). We’ve stayed in some really nice hotels close to some of these districts, including Hotel Yan and Hotel 1929 (which is in a cool old building).
Old world colonial architecture doesn’t get any better than at Raffles Hotel, named after Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. Apparently the last tiger in Singapore was shot in the famous Long Bar, but the only wounds you’ll find these days will be to your wallet – the legendary Singapore Sling will set you back over $20! If you have the money, definitely consider spending the night there (it’s not cheap though).
Just like the London Eye but bigger, apparently the Singapore Flyer is the tallest observational wheel in the world and the views from the top are pretty amazing.
Staying at Marina Bay Sands will cost you a lot, but if you’ve got the money it seems like a great experience. Alas, I’m only a poor traveller so I haven’t stayed there, but I have been to the Skypark, located on the 57th floor. The views are even better than from the Singapore Flyer and sitting up there drinking an overpriced beer is a must do.
The gardens are huge and if you visit in the middle of the afternoon (like I did) it’ll be extremely hot, but it’s worth it. The orchid garden set me back $5 and I was beginning to feel ripped off, until I saw Kristen Stewart filming a science fiction movie there. It took her 2 takes to walk down a garden path, and even though I can’t stand Twilight it’s always cool to see famous people.
The river at Clarke Quay (and Boat/Robertson Quay) is lined with restaurants and bars, and if you’re feeling hungry and don’t mind shelling out for an expensive meal it’s a great place to eat. The Asian Civilizations Museum is also worth a look – it’s one of the better museums I’ve been to in Southeast Asia. This area comes alive at night, so if you’re looking to do some clubbing it’s a good option. Looking for a budget hotel close to Clarke Quay? We stayed at Fragrance Hotel – Riverside and it was great!
Sentosa Island is built for tourists and you could easily spend a couple of days there. Universal Studios is good (although quite small) and the beaches are pretty decent simulations of actual tropical paradises (they shipped their sand in from Indonesia apparently). This is also a good place to go at night as there are some really good beachside restaurants and bars. Read more about some of the best things to do on Sentosa Island here. Spending a night or two on Sentosa Island could be a good idea, especially if you feel like escaping the city for a bit and have more than 2 days in Singapore — check out Capella Singapore and W Singapore – Sentosa Cove.
If you’re into shopping go to Orchard road, if you aren’t then I’d avoid it…
If you’re not too exhausted from sightseeing you should go to the night safari, it’s a really unique experience and one of my favourite places in Singapore. You can get a free bus ride there if you have a Singapore Sightseeing bus ticket, which saves a lot of hassle (or money), as it is located well out of the city. If you have more time I’d definitely recommend the zoo as well, and if you’re really into wildlife also head to Jurong Bird Park and the River Safari.
Very few people I’ve met who passed through Singapore went to any of these places, but in my opinion they are just as (if not more) interesting than the inner city tourist sites. Getting to some of them can be time consuming, but the public transport system is very easy to navigate.
Haw Par Villa is probably the weirdest tourist attraction I’ve been to (possibly the weirdest in the world) and you should definitely check it out. It was built by 2 Burmese brothers to celebrate Buddhism, and you’ll not only find statues of torture in the “12 Courts of Hell” but you’ll also see one of a woman breastfeeding an older woman while 1 kid does sit ups and another peels an orange. It’s weird!
It’s hard to believe Pulau Ubin is part of Singapore – if you go on a weekday you’ll have it almost all to yourself. Apparently it’s what all of Singapore would have looked like in the not too distant past and the scenery/peacefulness makes it my favourite part of the country. You can hire a bike and check out a wetland boardwalk, photograph the colourful quarry lakes and see wild pigs and monkeys.
If you’re after a suburban Singapore experience, head to East Coast Park. You’ll see local families riding bicycles, firing up their bbqs or maybe setting up their tents for a night of camping. The beach is pretty good and there are some nice bars and restaurants in the area.
There are lots of walks in Singapore if you’re after some exercise. Macritchie Reservoir is one of the better ones, or you could do the Southern Ridges – my personal favourite.
The only surviving kampong (traditional village) in mainland Singapore makes for an interesting step back in time. It’s strange to see a small, rural village surrounded by high rise buildings and it’s a place I hope gets more popular as it’d mean it’ll be less likely to get knocked down to make way for another big building.
For your last night in town head back to Gardens by the Bay to see the Supertrees perform a psychedelic light show. It’s free and is one of the most unique experiences you’ll have in Singapore.
If you are spending 2 days in Singapore it won’t be cheap, but there are a lot of free things to do. The Night Safari, Gardens by the Bay (just the domes and Skywalk), Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands will all cost you, but if you’re travelling in Southeast Asia you can easily make up that money with a few cheap days in other countries.